Even Comedy College can't guarantee financial rewards

"Somebody in Chicago advertises, 'Be funny. Make money.' To me that's such a fallacy. There's very little money in (standup) comedy unless you're at the very highest echelon of the profession." That's the clear-eyed assessment of Jim Rauth, "Dean" of his own standup Comedy College here in Milwaukee (and now in Chicago). "It's a tough way to make money, the comedy business."

Rauth points to the film, "Comedian" (produced by and including some scenes with Jerry Seinfeld) as a lousy infomercial for his Comedy College. "But I think it's a good reality check. That one guy (Orny Adams) -- I know a lot of people like him. They put in eight years and they think the business owes them something. The business owes nobody anything!"

Work that warms the heart or satisfies the soul often doesn't pay much. Rauth explains, "It's more about having fun, having a good time. Once people get involved with comedy, once they go through the first 'graduation' with me, I have, probably a 95% return rate."

This fall's 101 Comedy College class "graduates" in a public performance on Fri., Jan. 3, in the banquet hall of Burnham Bowl, 6016 W. Burnham St., at 7:30 p.m. and the public is invited.

Training for standup comedy at Rauth's Comedy College consists of seven sessions (six classes, one performance) each of Comedy 101 through 505, one night a week. Ubiquitous flyers, bearing the college's logo of a cartoon smiley-face sporting a mortarboard announced the first class beginning on Mon., Nov. 11. Nine people showed up; two thought they were going to see a show and with a third, never appeared for the second class though they were all welcomed to participate in the first evening's exercises and did so. One female, who missed the first class, joined the initial six people who remained. These courageous seven (profiled below) are nervously ready to make their first formal public appearance on Friday.

"I tell everybody to keep their blinders on," Rauth says, "and just worry about their space. Don't look at what anybody else is doing. That'll only frustrate you. Just do the best you can do. It's hard work and determination. 'Comedian' shows that very well. There is no easy way to do comedy."

West Allis-born and still resident, Rauth first began Comedy College on the Northwest side in 1999. It's really an outcrop from a local television show he'd been doing on auto repair. "I don't know anything about the subject," Rauth confesses, "but my co-host did." Rauth contributed an air of levity to the proceedings.

With an awareness of his comic abilities, Rauth established his training school. After one year it disappeared from the local scene because Rauth transferred the operation to Chicago, where he has, on average, 12 to 15 students per class. Right now he's teaching four classes in the Windy City with the students at varying levels in their development. "I do have an ear for knowing a good joke. I've always been able to tweak other people's act. It's way easier than critiquing my own act," Rauth says.

In addition to Comedy College-Chicago Division, Rauth produces a show at a place there called Coyle's Tippling House, 2843 N. Halsted St. "It's in Wrigleyville, right next to the Field. It's sandwiched between a lot of improvisational theatres down there. Second City is about a mile from us and the Improv Olympics is about a half a mile to the north. So every Tuesday night I host a show called 'Jim Rauth's Comedy College Showcase/Open Mic.'" For the uninitiated, open microphone nights allow standup comics to come from anywhere and try to refine their routines. There is no preplanned program -- it's a very casual "Come as you are and take your chances" kind of improvisational event.

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